Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


PRADO, Perez

(b Dámaso Pérez Prado, 11 December 1916, Matanzas, Cuba; d 14 September 1989, Mexico City) Pianist, organist, bandleader, arranger, composer; popularizer of his own form of the mambo. He studied classical piano at Principal School of Matanzas, played with local bands and relocated to Havana in the late '30s, initially performing with bands at Pennsylvania and Kursaal night clubs. He briefly worked as arranger and pianist with Orquesta Casino de la Playa '40 (four sides he recorded with that band collected on Memories Of Cuba 1937-44 '91 on Tumbao); also worked with Orquesta Cubaney (led by trumpeter Pilderó), Paulina Alvarez's orchestra and CMQ radio band. He formed his own band '46, making his first overseas tour and recordings '47; sides made in Cuba '47-9 were compiled on Kuba-Mambo '91 on Tumbao. Prado gave inconsistent accounts of how and when he started writing mambos; he apparently used a term already popularized by danzón-mambos performed by flute and strings orchestra Arcaño y sus Maravillas to develop a formula for his brass-and-sax jazz-type lineup. Prado made little impact in Cuba, went to Mexico '48 and worked with various bands before organizing another band of his own; he hired the Blanquita de Cuba theatre and mounted a successful show, Al Son del Mambo ('To The Sound Of The Mambo'). He teamed with the Cuban sonero Beny Moré (see his entry) for Mexican tours and a notable appearance at a Panama carnival, and recordings: 'El Barbaro Del Ritmo' Mambos By Beny Moré '91 on Tumbao collects sides with Moré‚ '48-50 on RCA Victor, arguably some of his finest and most authentic recordings.

Prado made his US debut May '51 with a pickup band (including Mongo Santamaria) at Ashland Auditorium for Chicago's Mexican Youth Center. He took up residence in the USA after being kicked out of Mexico in bizarre circumstances. He recorded for Seeco, UA, Epic and other labels, but mostly for RCA. His best-known mambos were numbered: 'Mambo No. 5' (said to have been the first major crossover mambo hit '49), 'Mambo No. 8' (both included on Go Go Mambo! '92 on Tumbao, a collection of recordings made in Mexico '49-50 and NYC '51). The mambo gradually became a craze in various Latin countries and a national fad in the USA '54. (In fact it was said to be bassist Israel 'Cacheo' Lopez [see his entry] and his brother Orestes who invented the mambo, but he always generously gave Prado credit for popularizing it.) In the US Latin community the three mambo kings were Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez; although the last two also recorded for RCA, Prado became the best known of them all because he had the biggest crossover hit: 'Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White' '55. 'Cerisier Rose et Pommer Blanc' was published in Paris '50, recorded by Prado as 'Cerazo Rosa' '51 (included in Go Go Mambo!), again '55 for use in film Underwater with Jane Russell: it was a superb recording technically for the time, with juke box bass that could rattle the windows; the arranger had a slower tempo than Prado's other mambos and a spectacular trumpet solo by Billy Regis; it was no. 1 in the USA for ten weeks, two weeks in the UK.

Pop Memories lists 'Anna' (film theme) and 'Skokiaan' (a South African tune also recorded by Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Ralph Marterie, the Four Lads, the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm Boys, etc) as Prado hits '53-4; he had a second no. 1 '58 with 'Patricia', a bouncy organ-led jazzish cha cha chá. Prado left the USA '70 (it's rumoured that he had fallen foul of the Internal Revenue Service), continued to tour the world, returned to Mexico. Mongo Santamaria, Doc Cheatham, reedman (later bandleader) René Bloch, Johnny Pacheco (on percussion), and Ray Barretto were among those who passed through Prado's band. Other compilations included Al Compás del Mambo 1950-52 '93 on Tumbao, Mambo Mania/Havana 3 A.M. (includes most of the hits) and Voodoo Suite/Exotic Suite (the former with Shorty Rogers on trumpet) on Bear Family. The hit 'Guaglione' from '58 was a UK top ten '95 through its use in a Guinness TV ad; it became chic to use Prado or soundalikes in ads, as TV themes and incidental music, perhaps the ultimate tribute.